VANSITTART, George (1745-1825), of Bisham Abbey, Berks.
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Family and Education
b. 15 Sept. 1745, 6th s. of Arthur Vansittart of Clewer and Moat Park, Windsor by Martha, da. and coh. of Sir John Stonhouse, 3rd Bt.†, of Radley. educ. Reading sch.; by R. Eaton, Tower Street, London.1 m. 24 Oct. 1767 in Bengal, his distant cos. Sarah, da. of Rev. Sir James Stonhouse, 7th and 10th Bt., 5s. 3da.
Writer, E.I. Co. (Bengal) 1760; asst. under the pres. and Persian translator 1763; factor and resident at Midnapur 1767; jun. merchant 1769; sen. merchant 1771; chief of council of revenue, Patna 1772; member of council 1773, of board of trade 1774; home 1775, ret. 1776.
High steward, Maidenhead 1794.
Vansittart retained the Berkshire seat in 1790, was successful in the contested election of 1796 and sat undisturbed in the three succeeding Parliaments. While he apparently continued to give general support to Pitt, was listed among opponents of repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in 1791, and voted for the assessed taxes augmentation bill, 4 Jan. 1798, his parliamentary behaviour was sometimes unpredictable. He voted for Grey’s motion for negotiations with France, 26 Jan. 1795, but when the issue was raised again on 6 Feb. opposed the proposal, on the ground that ‘a question which had been so recently discussed and decided, ought not to have been again brought before the House’. In a debate on the pending repressive legislation, 25 Nov. 1795, he ‘observed that the French, who had set out with the doctrine of equality, had now discovered that the preservation of society required various classes and ranks’, but he voted for Grey’s parliamentary reform motion, 26 May 1797. He attacked the committal of offenders bill, 12 May 1791; criticized the militia augmentation bill, 6 Mar. 1794, when he advocated a levy by ballot as opposed to volunteers in order to distribute the burden evenly, and on 11 Mar. 1796 joined Fox in objecting to a bill to stiffen the penalties for burglary and highway robbery. He continued to interest himself in Indian affairs: in the debate on the India budget, 5 June 1792, he defended the British administration in India against the strictures of Philip Francis, and on 30 May 1793 he urged that steps be taken in future to prevent impeachments extending to ‘the grievous length’ of that of his close friend Warren Hastings. As an East India Company stockholder, he was entitled to two votes for the directorate.
On Addington’s accession to power in 1801 Vansittart became a recognized member of his parliamentary connexion. He spoke against Patten’s motion of censure, 3 June 1803, and condemned Fox’s motion on the defence of the country, 23 Apr. 1804, as an unconstitutional ‘attempt to force the ministers out of their places’. He followed Addington into opposition in May 1804, was acknowledged as an Addingtonian in both the May and September government lists and spoke and voted against the additional force bill in June. He voted for the repeal of the latter, 6 Mar., for the censure of Melville, 8 Apr., and spoke and voted for his criminal prosecution, 12 June 1805. In the government list of July 1805 he was duly classed as a follower of Sidmouth. He evidently supported the ‘Talents’, voting for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, when of the original bill he said that ‘there was no degree of necessity which could warrant such a measure, so oppressive was it in its operation’. Although his name appears in the published lists of the minority who voted for Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge, 9 Apr. 1807, it was almost certainly included in error for Nicholas Vansittart*. He stated in his election address, 30 Apr., that in ‘the two late divisions’ he had supported ‘the just prerogative of the crown’ and at the Berkshire county meeting of the same date he approved an address upholding the King’s action in dismissing the ‘Talents’. In the Morning Chronicle of 22 June 1807 he was listed among Members of the new Parliament who had not voted on Brand’s or Lyttelton’s motions, but who were, in Fremantle’s words, ‘not supposed to be attached to government’.2
In the 1807 Parliament, which he seems to have attended infrequently, Vansittart, who was excused committee service on account of his age, 29 Feb. and 21 Mar. 1808,3 pursued an idiosyncratic line. He was no longer considered one of Sidmouth’s parliamentary squad, though their friendship continued. He voted in favour of allowing Catholics to hold directorships of the Bank of Ireland, 30 May 1808. According to Princess Elizabeth, he ‘voted in every way’ in defence of the Duke of York in 1809, newspaper reports to the contrary being mistaken,4 but he divided in support of the corruption charges against Castlereagh, 25 Apr. 1809. On 16 Jan. 1810 Sidmouth told Bragge Bathurst that Vansittart, who ‘slept here last night’, wished ‘to express by a vote on the first day a total want of confidence in the government’,5 and he duly voted for the amendment to the address, 23 Jan. The Whigs were ‘hopeful’ of his support in mid March, and received it in the division on the Walcheren issue, 30 Mar., but he is not known to have voted in opposition to government thereafter. On 6 June 1810 he deplored the implication made in the Berkshire petition for the release of Burdett, presented by his Whig colleague and resisted by ministers, that the House was responsible for the earlier bloodshed, and argued that the military had ‘behaved with exemplary moderation’. He voted in the ministerial minority against Stuart Wortley’s motion for the formation of a stronger administration, and when the issue was raised again, 11 June, condemned, in his last known speech, this renewed attempt ‘to dictate to the crown the choice of its servants’ as a step towards ‘a turbulent democracy’, and vowed to ‘support ministers as long as they should deserve support by their conduct’.
Throughout his career Vansittart was ill-disposed towards interference with the existing Poor Law. He voted against Whitbread’s wage regulation bill, 12 Feb. 1796, as ‘a greater evil than that already complained of’; and on 24 Apr. 1807 questioned the value of his scheme for parochial education, failing to see why property owners ‘should be taxed in order that all the children in the country should be taught to read and write, especially when it was doubtful, whether writing would be of any real use’. The threat of a contest for the county and declining health induced him to retire from Parliament at the dissolution of 1812. He died 20 Jan. 1825.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. J. Nichols, Lit. Anecs. iii. 476; India Office Lib. J/1/4, ff. 39-40, where it appears that he was born 5 Sept. 1743. His obituary notices claim that he was in his 82nd year. So perhaps Burke LG is mistaken as to his birth date.
- 2. Reading Mercury, 4 May 1807; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 188.
- 3. CJ, lxiii. 130, 193.
- 4. Recs. of Stirring Times ed. Montgomery-Campbell, 103-4.
- 5. Sidmouth mss.